Student leaders across the province are pissed off over what they claim is a slight by the province's four big universities.
According to University of Calgary Students' Union president Bryan West, the universities' sent a letter to Alberta Advanced Education Minister Dave Hancock outlining recommendations for a proposed affordability framework for post-secondary education. West and other student leaders are angry the universities sent the letter without consultation from students. The letter was signed by the presidents of the U of C, University of Alberta, University of Lethbridge and Athabasca University.
"We were under the impression the universities and students' unions were going to come up with a single position on base funding, operating grants, all of these things," said West. "But at the same time we were having these conversations, the universities were already sending their recommendations to the ministry."
West's main beef lies with the tuition policy proposed in the letter.
The provincial government is currently picking up the tab for tuition increases through the Alberta Centennial Rebate Program, leaving tuition effectively frozen at the 2004/2005 level while the entire PSE system is reviewed by the province.
In the letter, the universities propose rolling tuition back to the 2004/2005 levels and folding the centennial rebate into base funding for PSE institutions. The plan would see future tuition increases based on consumer price index inflation rates plus 3.5 per cent. To West, that's not good enough.
"The real deal-breaker is the CPI plus 3.5 per cent," said West. "Essentially what that does is put us on par, or higher, with previous tuition increases. It just doesn't make sense."
West is the student representative on a committee tasked with determining various solutions to Alberta's PSE woes and reporting back to the PSE review steering committee.
"It's frustrating for the student groups involved to seem to get support and then have them turn around, behind closed doors, and say something else," said West.
U of C provost and vice-president academic Dr. Ron Bond denied that the proposal was a back-room deal. He said he didn't know of any agreement between administration and the SU to provide a joint proposal.
"The four universities that put their names to the proposal thought it was a good idea to float a proposal by the ministry at this time," said Bond, stressing the letter represents just one proposal and there is plenty of room for discussion yet.
SU VP external Jen Smith said students will be providing their own proposal to the ministry, calling for a tuition roll-back to 1999/2000 levels, and yearly increases of one per cent less than CPI. She said this would equal approximately $3,500 per year for full-time studies. Smith is chair of the Council of Alberta University Students, the lobby group which represents students from the U of C, U of A and U of L.
"Alberta tuition should be the most affordable in Canada," she said. "We believe this is a reasonable request."
The steering committee is expected to present its results to Hancock in late spring.